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Wednesday, 10 April 2019 09:59

Stuxnet creators were in partnership longer than thought: claim

Stuxnet creators were in partnership longer than thought: claim Image by slightly_different from Pixabay

The US-Israel nation-state hacking partnership that created Stuxnet, the malware used to cripple Iran's nuclear program, lasted much longer than was known earlier, researchers from Chronicle Security, a sister company of Google, claim.

Juan-Andres Guerrero-Saade and Silas Cutler said in a blog post that they had given a name to this nation-state partnership: GossipGirl.

They claimed that malware named Flowershop, which was used in 2002, and malware known as Flame 2.0, found in 2016 were both connected to Stuxnet and Flame, the latter being used to spy on devices in the Middle East until it was outed in 2012 by Kaspersky Lab.

Stuxnet is said to have been developed by the NSA and Israel's Unit 8200 while Flame is suspected of having the same parentage.

Kaspersky Lab researchers found malware they called Duqu in 2011, with common code from Stuxnet, and which they said was possibly the work of Unit 8200. Another spying tool, Gauss, found in 2012, is also thought to have been created by the NSA.


The relationship between the malware created by the US-Israeli partnership.

Guerrero-Saade and Cutler used the YARA tool to scan years of code and look for similarities to these four malware samples. They said they had found two new matches that were similar to Stuxnet Flame, Duqu and Gauss.

One of these, called Flowershop, discovered by Kaspersky Lab in 2013 but not made public, had four communication modules in common with Stuxnet.

The second, which the two Chronicle researchers called Flame 2.0, was created in 2014 and uploaded to Google's VirusTotal database in 2016. But it was heavily encrypted and its functionality has yet to be ascertained.

The original Flame malware was thought to have been killed off by its Israeli creators in 2012, soon after its existence was made known. It was notable in that it used a cryptographic attack to impersonate a Windows Update server in a business and spread, as if legitimately signed by Microsoft.

"A better understanding of the institutions and incentives involved in cyber espionage further supports the view that threat actors don’t go away after exposure; our aggressors never truly vanish," Guerrero-Saade and Cutler wrote.

"They have an intelligence remit to fulfill and will go to great lengths in doing so. The defender community must be willing to match these efforts in order to insure the collective safety of users and organisations that lack the resources to defend themselves against the most formidable threat actors."


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Sam Varghese

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Sam Varghese has been writing for iTWire since 2006, a year after the site came into existence. For nearly a decade thereafter, he wrote mostly about free and open source software, based on his own use of this genre of software. Since May 2016, he has been writing across many areas of technology. He has been a journalist for nearly 40 years in India (Indian Express and Deccan Herald), the UAE (Khaleej Times) and Australia (Daily Commercial News (now defunct) and The Age). His personal blog is titled Irregular Expression.



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